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Tips on how to make 
better nitrogen beers

By Scott James

Infusing beer with nitrogen has become popular in the industry over the last couple of years, but it is a difficult procedure and often leaves brewers and drinkers alike feeling frustrated. I will share a few tips here that I learned through trial and error and that have been effective for me in the past.

The original intention of adding nitrogen to beer and serving it through a Guinness-style faucet was to mimic the effect of the beer engine. The gas used to displace Guinness is 70 percent nitrogen and 30 percent carbon dioxide, which is an approximation of what is in air.

Infusing beer with nitrogen using equipment that was not designed for nitrogen service, however, is difficult. Ideally, beer displaced by a nitrogen mix should be displaced at 35 PSI. This is virtually impossible to do in tanks that were designed to operate at 15 PSI. At 15 PSI the carbon dioxide is forced into solution but the nitrogen is not. The result is a beer that becomes progressively more foamy as you pour it, being entirely unservable at the bottom of the tank. My solution is to infuse and displace the beer with pure nitrogen.

One method is to recirculate the beer through the spray ball while infusing it with nitrogen. This method works, but the beer usually foams up and makes a mess inside and sometimes outside the tank.

Another method requires some additional equipment — food-grade nitrogen, a beverage nitrogen regulator, and a stainless steel sintered stone.

Good yeast combinations

To get the most from your nitrogen beers, we suggest the following yeasts:

• WLP004 Irish Ale Yeast: This strain is great for making a dry Irish stout, an authentic tasting beer that’s great on nitrogen. The yeast originates from one of the oldest stout producing regions in the world.

• WLP023 Burton Ale Yeast. This yeast has many complex flavors that come through very well on nitrogen beers. The yeast is from the brewing town of Burton and is packed with character. The creamy effect of the nitrogen allows more of this distinct character to hit the palet.

• WLP005 British Ale Yeast. This yeast will help you make real-style ale beers. It has that English ale fruitiness that, combined with nitrogen, provides authentic, complex flavors.

If a port is not available for the stone, a 1-1/2" sleeve can be put onto the bottom of the serving vessel or bright beer tank, and the stone can be clamped to the sleeve.

The dispensing pressure at the regulator should be set to 22 PSI, and the valve at the top of the tank should be cracked open just enough to hear a slight hiss of gas escaping. This should be left to nitrogenate for eight hours, checking occasionally to see that the top of the tank is still hissing slightly. The gas lost to the atmosphere is minimal and this system is actually very efficient.

After eight hours, the product should be checked for the correct pour through a nitrogen faucet. The resulting head should be very creamy and slow to settle out with that beautiful cascade of nitrogen.

When the nitrogen is done settling out, the beer should have a creamy head about 1/2 inch deep. If the head is insufficient, CO2 should be infused into the beer at the same pressure, and in exactly the same manner the nitrogen was infused. This should be continued for one to two hours and checked regularly for a good pour.

When the desired pour is obtained, drop the dispensing pressure to 15 PSI and displace the entire tank with nitrogen. The beer should pour consistently all the way to the bottom of the tank.

Scott James learned how to make nitrogen beers as head brewer at both 20 Tank Brewery in San Francisco and HopTown in Pleasanton. He is a former employee of White Labs.